R&A executive defends pay gap between Opens

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers defended the sizable gap between purses for The Open Championship and the Women’s British Open, even as reporters peppered him with questions about the disparity during a news conference on Wednesday.

The purse for the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club this week is $10.75 million, with the Champion Golfer of the Year collecting $1.935 million.

The purse for the 43rd Women’s British Open, scheduled for Aug. 1-4 at Woburn Golf Club in Milton Keynes, England, is $4.5 million, with the winner taking home $675,000.

That’s an increase of about $1.25 million, or 40 percent, from the 2018 women’s tournament, when England’s Georgia Hall collected $490,000 for winning.

Slumbers said the R&A is committed to building a “sustainable” women’s game when it takes complete control of the Women’s British Open next year. It made a sizable financial contribution to increase the women’s purse this year.

“We’re as ambitious for the Women’s British Open as we are for The Open,” Slumbers said. “But as I have said previously, we want to grow the women’s game. We’re passionate about growing the women’s game, but we need to build a sustainable women’s game, and that means building a bigger amateur game right from the very beginning up to the top.

“To build the economics of the Women’s British Open, to be able to keep raising the prize money we need to do it as a sustainable business model. It needs to be a long-term business model, and that is what we are spending a long time doing. How do we build a better model to have a more financially successful Women’s British Open that will flow then down into the prize money? Where it ends up, I don’t know. But my ambition is to keep growing the overall performance of it and keep enhancing the status of the event.”

Slumbers said The R&A hasn’t yet decided whether it will change the name of Women’s British Open to the Women’s Open or something similar, as it did with the men’s event.

The R&A is also still determining the future rota for the women’s tournament. The men’s Open Championship is played exclusively on links courses, from a pool of 10 clubs, after returning to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951.

“As we’re looking at the Women’s British Open, how we attract more people to watch the championship, to watch it live or watch it on TV, it may be that only being on links courses might not be the right answer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see with the Women’s British Open a mix of some of the great inland courses and the great links courses, but all aimed at trying to make the championship more engaged with by the public.”

The R&A also announced that 237,500 tickets have sold for practice and competitive rounds at this week’s tournament, making it the second-largest crowd in Open Championship history. In 2000, the R&A said 239,000 patrons attended The Open at St. Andrews in Scotland.

The R&A has already committed to bringing back The Open to Portrush twice more in the next 20 years, after it waited 68 years to host the event for a second time. It’s the only course outside of England and Scotland to host the tournament.

The other courses in The Open rota are St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Muirfield, Royal Birkdale, Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s, Royal St. George’s, Royal Troon and Turnberry.

“There’s been a lot of talk about (taking The Open outside England) and I think that’s because of the success of bringing it to Royal Portrush,” Slumbers said. “But we have 10 courses in the pool that we use and we think they’re the best links courses in the world, and we’re happy with those courses.

“If we think about the past few years, going back to Carnoustie, going back to Hoylake and coming back to here, they’ve been great successes. We are not looking, at the moment, beyond those 10 courses.”

Scotland’s Muirfield announced in June that it would admit 12 female members this month for the first time in its 275-year history. The club was left out of The Open rotation because its membership didn’t vote to admit women in 2016. However, being kept out of The Open rotation forced a second vote in 2017, when members of the club voted in favor of admitting women by more than 80 percent.

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